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REVIEW: Hard Fall by James Buchanan

Dear James:

193453181201lzzzzzzzThis was such a great book as I was reading it that I couldn’t put it down. Although there have been a few things niggling at my brain in retrospect, the actual reading experience was almost perfect.

That pleasure came mostly from Joe: Deputy Joe Paterson, devout Mormon, Sheriff’s deputy in a small county in Utah, and a deeply closeted, although self-accepting gay man. The novel is told from Joe’s first person perspective, which I usually don’t like, but his voice was so strong and so comfortable and so real, that I just couldn’t put him down. I imagine having him in your head as you were writing was both incredibly uncomfortable and deeply satisfying.

Kabe Varghese is the trouble that Joe can’t refuse. He’s a rock-hound, a high adrenaline climber, on federal parole for “[f]ree-climbing a federally-owned dam with enough E in [his] pack to fly a football team” and is trying to keep his citified nose clean by staying with his family, who asks Joe to keep an eye on him. Joe can’t help but keep an eye on him, because he’s totally attracted to him. When a Search and Rescue call comes in for a fallen tourist, Joe has to call on Kabe to help with the body recovery because he’s the only other climber he trusts in the area. They have a little pissing contest on the cliff when Kabe tries to mess with the straight Mormon and Joe asserts his natural dominance and reveals to Kabe that he’s gay. They begin their sexual relationship the next day, while looking for evidence to do with the death, and most of the rest of the book deals with the significant fallout from Joe’s church and job when Joe and Kabe inadvertently out themselves.

The beauty of the landscape in which the story is set comes through perfectly. Joe is so much a part of the land, it almost hurts to read about it:

I certainly couldn’t think of a finer place to be at that moment. Touching him like that, sharing a huge blue sky. The wind got the trees whispering and the ground squirrels romanced each other. Near perfect afternoon with just us together. And I loved the mountains, loved ‘em like my own life. Nothing in the world could compare to a huge sky miles from any hint of civilization. Reminded me of sex…the openness of it, the forgetting yourself in the moment of it, losing your soul to something bigger and touching creation for just a second. Closet romantic, me.

I love Joe’s comfort with himself on all levels: as a member of the LDS church, as a believer, as a law enforcement officer, as a gay man. All of these elements are essential to his very existence. He doesn’t lose his faith as he’s thrown out of his church for being gay; he doesn’t deny the power of belief. He’s mostly comfortable with himself as a gay man (this unexpected comfort is explained), although he’s internalized his church’s stand on extra-marital sex enough to feel that he’s “giving in to temptation” and “sinning” when he gets together with Kabe. In fact, he’s focused so much on the sinning aspects that he loses sight of why having an affair with an ex-con and a “person of interest” in a murder investigation is a bad idea. His meeting with his sheriff is raw and powerful and his reaction to his suspension, his ex-communication, and his community’s withdrawal is so real and so heart-rending. Neither Joe nor Kabe do a good job talking about their feelings, but that doesn’t mean they’re not immediately obvious. Show, not tell is in full force in this story.

I love the community you establish between Joe and the other law enforcement officers and your facility with the maze of jurisdiction issues between the county, the town, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Parks Service, and the paperwork it entails when a county official needs to go onto state or federal land.

And, predictably enough, I adore the BDSM in this book. One thing Joe discovers in his relationship with Kabe is how much he enjoys taking charge and, in some cases, hurting Kabe physically. All of their sex scenes depict some version of BDSM: bondage, barely-suppressed violence, spanking, flogging, domination. It’s all brilliantly done and completely consistent with both characters. When Joe freaks out after their first truly heavy session, Kabe’s response is just perfect:

The thoughts forced into something resembling an apology. “Okay, I don’t normally…”

“Anytime you want.”

His words hit me like a two-by-four between the eyes. “What?”

“I liked it.” Kabe licked his lips and half closed his eyes like he remembered something good. “In the truck, when you tied me up.” A shudder ran all through his body. “Last night, fuck man, it’s never been that intense. So we’re good, anytime.”

For all that following Joe’s journey is wonderful, we know much less about Kabe. The first person perspective doesn’t allow us into Kabe’s head at all, of course. Although he seems very eager in his relationship with Joe and we get glimpses of how much he likes Joe and of what he’s getting out of the relationship (someone who treats him with respect), I still felt a little cut off from him, less able to trust his commitment to the relationship. This bleeds into my other problem with the book: the happy for now ending is solid, but not as strong as I like them. You tweeted with me that you doesn’t believe in Happy Ever After, because that just makes people complacent. Happy For Now means that people know they have to keep working at making it happy. And while I get this (19 years working on my HFN ending!), I also wish I’d been able to see Kabe put down a few roots besides those connecting him with Joe. Their last “fight” is Kabe trying to get Joe to shake the dust of small-town Utah off his feet and Joe reiterating that he belongs there, even if the community doesn’t think so. Kabe is committed to Joe, absolutely, but not so much to what makes Joe Joe: the land, the community, his law enforcement status. This isn’t going to be an easy relationship.

These issues, however, came to me after I’d put the book down, and only because the book stuck with me so much that I was thinking about it for so long. As I was reading it, I just fell into Joe, and his love of Kabe, of the land, of his newly discovered BDSM sexuality, of his job. Hard Fall is an incredibly satisfying book, a brilliant examination of faith and love and commitment.

Grade: B+

Sincerely,
-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased in trade paperback from an independent bookstore or ebook format from AllRomanceeBooks.

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

34 Comments

  1. Lizzy
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 12:27:52

    “Bring me the giant, floating head of Deputy Joe!”

    Sorry, I’ll go back and read this review now. I’m sure it’s fantastic, as always.

  2. Joan/SarahF
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 12:29:40

    @Lizzy: That’s one of those American pop culture references I just don’t get because I only moved here when I was 14, right? :) And thanks for the compliment.

  3. jmc
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 12:32:23

    Is this available in e-format anywhere?

  4. Joan/SarahF
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 12:35:06

    @jmc: Um, at the link above? Works for me. I certainly read it in e-format.

  5. jmc
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 12:54:29

    @Joan/SarahF: Uh, sorry, tunnel visioning. Clicked on the indiebound link and ignored the other link. Will go be a moron offline now.

  6. DS
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 13:15:47

    Movie: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Sam Peckinpah directed it. Great title. I was going for a Zardoz reference– another 70’s movie with a giant floating head.

  7. Cathy
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 13:27:40

    The floating-head cover is a bit goofy (though I do appreciate a cover without mantitty), but the story itself sounds really good. I’ll add it to my ever-growing to-be-bought list.

  8. cs
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 14:04:13

    Dear me, the cover…

    Great review, I don’t know if I’ll pick this up because I am so wary of this author. However I’ve never read the author’s MLR releases, so maybe I should give it a chance?

  9. James Buchanan
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 14:13:46

    Thank you, I can breathe now.

  10. Joan/SarahF
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 14:24:51

    @cs: Yes, the cover is…well, the front picture is great, at least, and very evocative of Kabe. I’m curious as to what you mean about being wary of Buchanan. Just curious.

  11. Shannon H
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 16:29:17

    I am so thrilled that you reviewed this. I adore My Brother, Coyote by James Buchanan. It was one of the first m/m books I read, and it was absolutely heartbreaking and wonderful and amazing. I’m so excited to have another good story by him to read!

  12. sula
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 16:49:38

    I’ve enjoyed the stories that I’ve read by Buchanan. This one sounds really interesting. Good review. :)

  13. Sayuri
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 18:02:58

    I really enjoyed this book. I really felt for Joe when his life started coming apart at the seams. My heart was in my throat from that first discovery right through til the end. And the religious aspect really had me hooked. It was great to see that as focus and dealt with in what I thought was a real and honest way.

    What stopped it from being a keeper? Yeop, the HFN. I love me ‘a declaration of love’. It’s really the only fantasy of romace that I demand. I don’t much care if it’s not real life, I still want one. But I understand why there wasn’t one. It wouldn’t have fit in the story at all. But still, is it too much to ask for one itsty, bitsy teeny-weeny ‘I love you,’ somewhere? *g*

    Loved the review as always.

  14. cs
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 18:08:31

    Oh, I just meant I’ve read a few other stories the author has written, and I never liked the author’s voice or style, so they all (albeit maybe one?) were a ‘miss’ for me. Your review does intrigue me enough to maybe give this book a go, but I am again reluctant because of the BDSM the story involves. I’m on the fence.

  15. Joan/SarahF
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 18:14:27

    @cs: Well, the BDSM’s definitely part of what Joe’s figuring out about himself. It’s very very well done, FWIW. Very authentic to the emotions of a top/sadist figuring out what turns him on.

    A scene each of bondage, spanking, whipping, and Joe’s very dominant to begin with.

  16. CourtneyLee
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 18:41:38

    I read this book this weekend and loved it. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a James Buchanan book I didn’t like. I loved Joe and I do agree that I felt kind of cut off from Kabe, but that was okay. The HFN was definitely realistic, but I would have liked a declaration, too. But I think that Joe and Kabe each know how the other feels, so it’s all good. I’d love a sequel or some sort of follow-up to see how Joe and Kabe are doing, though.

    Re the BDSM: I’ve read a fair bit of BDSM both in MM and MF romance and I’m extremely picky about when I like it and why. In this book, I loved it. It wasn’t “hard core,” they didn’t get theatrical or wear leather (not that any of that is a bad thing), and it wasn’t really planned. That’s what was so great about it, though: it was less about what they did and more about why. Namely, that it felt great and they both really got off on it and that they were growing into a relationship that made Joe comfortable enough both with himself and with Kabe that he could let that part of himself out to play instictively. I agree with Joan that it was very well done.

  17. James Buchanan
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 19:27:53

    @Shannon H: Thank you, I’m glad you like my books. I have a special place in my heart for True and Seth.

  18. James Buchanan
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 19:49:32

    @sula: Thanks Sula

    @Sayuri: Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed Joe and I’ll keep the issue in mind.

    @cs: I can understand that. I’ve read some authors others rave about and did the total WTF? Didn’t connect with thier voice or tone. But thanks for giving me a try.

    @CourtneyLee: Joe’s got a lot to discover about himself. I’m glad you liked his journey…and you may get your wish.

  19. Kaetrin
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 23:13:48

    So, at the risk of being hit over the head with something (I’m ducking behind the couch straight after I hit “submit”) and fully admitting my prejudice for female authors; is there a noticeable difference between Mr. Buchanan’s writing (given he’s male) and a female author? If so, what is it?

    Forgive me if I haven’t articulated my question very well, but I’m trying to decide whether to go outside my comfort zone (author wise) and I’d like some advice from y’all. (I haven’t read anything by Mr. Buchanan previously).

    For example, I liked (not loved) Matthew Haldeman-Time’s Off the Record but in general, I’m a bit leary of men writing romance.

    Oh, that’s just bad of me isn’t it? *hangs head in shame*

    Shamed as I am, I’d still like to hear your answers!!

  20. Joan/SarahF
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 03:23:42

    @Kaetrin: Notice I addressed this letter to “Dear James” rather than to “Dear Mr. Buchanan” as I normally would, because James is a very lovely, very gender-queer woman who looks incredibly hot and confusing in that hat she wears in her icon pictures around the web. :)

    That aside, it’s not bad of you. It’s something I absolutely agree with you about. I don’t think I’ve read fiction by a man in years. I’ll admit I read James’ stories before knowing that she was a woman and I enjoyed them. I don’t think I enjoy them any more knowing that she’s female. But it didn’t surprise me to find out she was female at all.

    Now I’ve got Willow running through my head: “Not a woman?! Not a woman?!?!” Sorry. :)

  21. cs
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 06:31:34

    Joan: I have read numerous BDSM stories, and most of them were light/moderate ones. Though funny thing is, one of the best BDSM books I have EVER read is the book that also put me off the genre. It was a book by Cindy Rosenthal called Keep You (it was published by Torquere Press, but is no longer available there?)

    Spanking? Is a big turn off for me.

    James: I have to say your entry in the Fringe Benefits Anthology was superb. I have also read The Good Thief (and hopefully this isn’t a salt in the wound sort-of-comment) but did not like it. Though I have Cheating Chance in my TBR pile. I don’t have a lot of patience to stick with author’s and see if they produce something that I will eventually like. However, this book is in my radar due to the review.

  22. CourtneyLee
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 06:53:57

    Because I read so much MM romance, I read a lot of authors with names that suggest they are male. I really love that I can’t always tell if an author is male or female because I’m also biased toward female authors. Though it’s not usually surprising if I find an author is female, there are a few that I was shocked with because they wrote men so well. Other times I could have sworn the author was female (as the pseudonym suggested) but it turned out she was a he.

    All the gender bending has taught me not to pay attention to/make assumptions based on the sex of the author at my own peril. I think if I’d listened to my bias toward female authors or female-sounding author names, I’d have missed out on some great romance. Like Hard Fall. LOL

  23. Claudia
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 09:25:01

    Am I the only one that immediately wrote the book off for thinking it was titled Hard Fail? LOL. At first glance I envisioned some weird ass txt-blog Brokeback Bridget Jones mashup.

  24. Mary M.
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 15:08:54

    Crap. I already had that book on my WL following a previous rave review on anotehr blog, and as I read this one the book was slowly working its way close to the top of my list…until I reached the paragraph about BDSM. Instant turn-off. There is nothing remotely erotic in pain for me and if I’m OK with light bondage or domination, I don’t think any kind of flogging or spanking is sexy. Too bad, really, because the story seems really interesting.

  25. Kaetrin
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 20:05:58

    Okay, thanks for that Sarah. Next stupid question – why a male pseudonym? (particularly because (I think) it is common for women to have a female author bias and I have read here and elsewhere that it is mainly women to buy m/m romances). Just wondering…

  26. Joan/SarahF
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 20:22:59

    @Kaetrin: Well, from what I understand (and James or other m/m authors might be able to correct me here), it didn’t used to be acceptable, accepted, or understood (and I mean a year or two ago) that m/m was written mostly by women for women. And I think James has been writing a long time, so back when she started, it was expected that if you were writing m/m, you were a man, or used a male pseudonym. I think. ::shrug:: I’d like to say a good book is a good book, but I’ll admit I do have that female-author bias as well. I don’t like the voice of Scott & Scott’s “Romentics” books, for example.

  27. James Buchanan
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 20:37:32

    @Kaetrin: I can answer that for you.

    1. I started my attempts to be published in the gay erotica genre at a time when all the calls demanded a male or gender neutral pseudonym – and I may earn $10 with a romance short, I earned $50-100 for the same word count on gay erotica. I’m not the kind of person who can keep up with multiple incarnations…so I was going to use my 1st and Mid initial with my real last name and I wanted to cross populate my readership. I had my website set up almost 7mo in advance of my first publication.

    2. My stalker found me. Suffice it to say, it was long (years), it was involved and after a thorough investigation it got him fired (last I heard he went from being a VP of a company worth 5mil in assets to a TSA guard). But he at one point cornered me in a deserted parking garage, another followed me through a courthouse screaming at me until the bailiffs came out and restrained him. A few months go by after his firing and he found my author site and sent me disturbing correspondence. I shut down my website, closed every account I had on every forum, sent letters to all of my publishers and had them do a last min change of my pseudonym to James Buchanan. I probably could have come up with something that didn’t hit the dead gay president…but it was what I managed with under extreme pressure and not a small amount of terror. James is what I would have been named had I actually been born a boy and Buchanan is an old family name.

    So that’s the why behind the who…

  28. sylvan
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 22:27:29

    James,

    I did not know this! So, but, you do wear a cowboy hat an ride a Harley though, right? (big grin) Anyway, this review is yet another tease for me, Hard Fall has been on my list for some time now. The guy’s from Cheating Chance have been great to follow, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed with your work and I expect no less from this title! LUV YA!

  29. maygirl7
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 22:30:53

    @James
    Glad to hear you survived what sounds like some terrible experiences.

    I really loved this book.

  30. James Buchanan
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 22:46:34

    @sylvan: Not at the same time.

    CA has DOT brain-bucket laws. But I love my Harley…and the spawn do too. We don’t go Freeway/Highway with the Youngest….she’s still to small, but we ride with them both. Got stopped by a parent picking them up from the Y and SG and I are both on the bikes. She was gushing about how cool it was we both rode and had full gear for the spawn.

    @maygirl7: What doesn’t kill you….winds up in book…bwhahahhahah Look for Nicky’s issues in book 3. Enough years have gone by I can actually distance myself from it some….

  31. Kaetrin
    Apr 23, 2009 @ 00:20:30

    thanks so much for the answers Sarah and James.

    sorry to hear about your stalker problem but glad that you are okay now.

    I think I may have to give this book a try…

  32. James Buchanan
    Apr 23, 2009 @ 21:30:38

    @Kaetrin: Obviously, I’d love it if you did…but yeah, you know…it kind of makes me who I am.

  33. Tuesday Midday Links Roundup: | Dear Author
    May 04, 2010 @ 11:01:26

    […] Written by Joan/Sarah F.: The National Leather Association International has announced the winners of its Pauline Reage Novel Award for excellence in writing and publishing about leather, SM, bondage and fetishes. The winner is Claire Thompson with her Submission Times Two. Honorable mention goes to James Buchanan with her Hard Fall. […]

  34. PRIDE WEEK: Introduction and BDSM Recommendations by Sarah | Dear Author
    Jun 26, 2011 @ 08:23:05

    […] HARD FALL by James Buchanan I know James calls this book an “inspirational” and in a way it is. As I said in my review, the first-person perspective character is Deputy Joe Paterson, devout Mormon, Sheriff’s deputy in a small county in Utah, and a deeply closeted, although self-accepting gay man. This book is as much about him being outed and its effect on his deeply-held faith, as it is about his exploration with Kabe of the dominant, sadistic side of himself he never understood, or even knew was there. […]

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